Cheryl Angst, Writer

Writer of strange tales – because no one ever accused me of being normal.

Organizing it – Old School June 26, 2010

Filed under: Writing — Cheryl Angst @ 5:56 pm
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I’m taking a break from Job Hunted to work on Nikko’s Bond. Because I intend to write the first draft rather quickly (I’m aiming for under a month for 30,000 – 50,000 words), I want to be organized before I begin. I’ve decided to move away from my beloved spreadsheets and try a more old fashioned approach for outlining this novel.

Index cards.

I went to the drug store, bought a package of blank cards (so I could write on them portrait-style rather than the standard landscape-style), some new pens, and a bunch of pencils. If they’d had a binder ring I would’ve bought it too, but they didn’t. While I’m not using a spreadsheet, I’m still following the basic elements of scene design.

At the top of each card I write a ‘title’ for the chapter/scene (I’m envisioning short chapters). I may end up numbering them instead of using titles, but avoiding numbers now gives me the psychological freedom to move chapters/scenes around later without feeling like I need to renumber everything.

After the title, I assign my POV character a goal. This step is proving to be highly useful because while I have some great ideas for scenes, insisting on a goal forces me to answer the question, “Why is this scene important to the story?” If I can’t answer that, then the scene shouldn’t be written. Hopefully this will prevent me from having to kill too many extraneous darlings during my rewriting and editing phases.

Once the goal is articulated, I decide on the conflict – what’s going to make reaching that goal harder? I then throw in a disaster. Something has to happen in the scene that either prevents the POV character from reaching his/her goal, or it has to change the character’s goal.

To help me craft the scenes, I then write down the key emotions my characters are feeling during the scene – particularly their reaction to the disaster.

I finish my plans with a dilemma and a choice. In order for the story to move forward, the character must be the one making the decisions (MCs should never be passive passengers on their journeys), and those decisions should rarely be easy (or without consequence). I make sure to write down the character’s choice as this often helps with setting up the goal for the next scene.

One of the beautiful things about using index cards is they fit in my pocket. I was taking my laptop everywhere, and while that’s certainly feasible, tossing a pack of cards in my pocket is even easier. In addition, I can shuffle them around and physically see how the novel is shaping up.

For someone who hates writing anything by hand, I am finding a lot of enjoyment with this system.

How do you like to plan out your novels?

C.

 

Bow-Chicka-Bow-Bow May 28, 2010

Filed under: Writing — Cheryl Angst @ 9:09 pm
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My novel needs a sex scene. It’s not that I want to put one in for kicks – it’s actually vital to my plot. And while many of you may be wondering why this is worthy of a blog post, my cheerleader is doubled over laughing because she had to counsel me about my doubts with regards to writing said scene.

When I started this book, I thought I was writing a suspense novel. I wanted the novel to be about my main character, so in many respects, it is a character-driven story. I remember thinking to myself, “It wouldn’t hurt if there was a little spice somewhere,” but at no time did I think it would become essential. I always thought I could avoid it if I chickened out.

It turns out, due to my character’s colourful history impacting how she acts now, I actually NEED a sex scene, and I’m almost at the point in my manuscript where I have to write it.

I have never written a sex scene before.

Ever.

I’ve written some stories with heat, and a few with implied sex, but nothing explicit or graphic as the sex in those stories was more for atmosphere (or laughs) than anything else. The sex in my novel is integral to the plot – it has to happen. And that makes me nervous.

Terrified, really.

How do you handle sex scenes in your stories?

C.

 

New Scene May 15, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized,Writing — Cheryl Angst @ 8:29 pm
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I decided to post the second scene from my novel, Job Hunted, on the off chance those of you who’ve read the first scene would like to read more. You can find the second scene on the right side of this page under the heading, “Writing,” or you can click this link: http://cherylangst.wordpress.com/writing/job-hunted-chapter-1-scene-2/. I won’t spoil it, but I will say things don’t go as planned for Toni.

In other news, agent Suzie Townsend posted a link to yesterday’s post on her blog (http://confessionsofawanderingheart.blogspot.com/) and the publicity has driven my daily visit count through the roof! Several people stopped by long enough to comment, and a few even wandered around, checking out other posts and pages.

My stats from today confirm, for me, the power of social media. When I posted my Youtube video and Janet Reid blogged about it, my hits went from 30 to over 800 (and still slowly climbing). When I checked my visit count earlier this morning, my “10 Things…” post had 12 visits – it now has over 150. It seems I am slowly finding ways to get my name out there; now I need to figure out how to build on it.

From beyond the keyboard,

Cheryl.

cherylangst@gmail.com

 

Chapter Two – Complete! April 18, 2010

Filed under: Writing — Cheryl Angst @ 7:44 pm
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I finished the first rough polish of the second chapter of Job Hunted last night.

I want to mention, once again, the editing software available at http://www.autocrit.com/. Autocrit is awesome because it ferrets out passive verbs, -ly adverbs, and other banes of the writer’s existence. In addition, it will hunt for repeated words and phrases (words used too closely together within the text) as well as overused words. I also love the cliche and redundancy finders.

I run my chapters through the general edits on the Autocrit site after finishing the first draft. I like to make changes to the language and structure of the sentences while the writing is fresh in my mind. It also helps with the revision process down the road, as it will be much easier to read for things like flow, characterization, plot, pacing, and theme if I’m not getting hung up on awkward writing. It only takes me 30-45 minutes to roughly edit a full chapter using half a dozen of the Autocrit functions, but the difference in draft quality is amazing.

Even if you don’t edit as you write, I highly recommend this software for polishing subsequent or final drafts.

Another exciting aspect of finishing chapter two (yes, I find editing exciting) is now I get to sit down and plan out the scenes in chapter three. I love my spreadsheet, and I love planning out the key elements of my scenes (thus ensuring they have conflict or tension and move the story forward). As much as this may seem constraining, I have to say I find it liberating. I find my writing is stronger when I have a clear vision of precisely where I want to go with my words, and planning out the scenes allows me to watch them like a movie prior to recording them on paper.

As much as the structure assists with my writing, I have to admit none of my scenes have yet to follow precisely what I planned. In each scene my characters inevitably say or do something that deviates from what I originally planned. In each case, their actions made the scene better. My spreadsheet allows me to keep these alterations while ensuring I don’t wander too far along a tangent. I thrive on being creative within boundaries, and that’s what this system provides.

From beyond the keyboard,

Cheryl.

cherylangst@gmail.com

 

Guilty Pleasures April 7, 2010

Filed under: Writing — Cheryl Angst @ 9:30 pm
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I had a long and stressful day at work. I am extremely glad it’s over. A significant portion of my day consisted of meetings where challenging topics had to be addressed. Preparing for one such meeting is not fun. Preparing for four of them is *also* not fun.

There was a lull between two of the meetings and I found myself at loose ends. I pulled up my spreadsheet for Job Hunted and decided to play around with it a bit. Not only did I spend time refreshing myself with the purpose behind each of the components (columns) in my scenes, but I also looked at using scene locations (setting) to determine potential chapter breaks.

I am still contemplating where the chapter breaks should occur, but as I have added a new column (setting) to my spreadsheet, if I decide the setting is what I will use, I’ll have a handy reference at my fingertips.

As I was rereading my notes, I found myself asking, “What is the purpose of this scene?” and was pleased to be able to quickly and succinctly answer myself. Here are the purposes for each of my first four scenes: opening action, raising the stakes, conflict/obstacle, and character development/sub-plot conflict. I don’t know if there’s a sure-fire formula for arranging scenes based on their purpose, but looking at what I clearly saw within my own writing, I feel very good about the strength of my story.

The time I spent with my spreadsheet honestly was the highlight of my day. Despite all that has happened, it is the moment that comes most readily to mind, so as I prepare for bed I find a small smile is tugging at my lips. The more I focus on that moment, the more I feel as though today really was a good day.

From beyond the keyboard,

Cheryl.

cherylangst@gmail.com

 

Learning Curve March 5, 2010

Filed under: Writing — Cheryl Angst @ 7:50 pm
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I had a lovely discussion about my writing today, and one of the topics discussed was how small changes can reap big rewards. I have learned several things about my writing in the past twenty-four hours, and my beloved cheerleader had an overflowing inbox to prove it.

I finished writing (and quasi-polishing) the first scene of my novel last night and, flushed with pride and exuberance, I fired it off to my cheerleader in the hopes of glowing praise and adulation. As I was finishing my morning ablutions, a sudden thought occurred to me, “I didn’t fully address the dilemma in the scene!” so I rushed to the computer and fixed it. Satisfied that I had now created an amazing scene, I fired the new version off to my cheerleader with a note to delete the first email.

Later in the morning, as I compared my writing to the global scene components, I realized that while my character made a decision, no one reading the book would notice–it was too implicit. So, once again I dove into the text and altered things to make my character a more active participant in her life. It was impossible to miss the new strength in the passage, so I fired off a third email telling her to delete the second version and read this new one (I believe I also said something along the lines of, “I know you’re going to think I’m nuts, but…”).

After receiving the required cheers (and laughs at the state of her inbox), I determined that the ending of the first scene made it almost impossible to begin the second scene. I learned that the sixth element of a scene, the decision, is very powerful when it occurs as close to the end as possible–thus giving the character a new goal to pursue in the next scene. I had foolishly written an extra 100+ words following the decision, and it not only weakened the moment of choice, but it diluted the tension and totally handicapped my ability to craft an engaging beginning for the following scene. So, I sent her a frantic email telling her to delete the last two paragraphs and read it again.

The results were remarkable. The change didn’t make a difference in terms of plot or story arc, but somehow the writing felt firmer, bolder, stronger. The tension introduced as a tickle in the first line resounded like a cymbal crash 1,400 words later. Paying explicit attention to each element has brought my writing up several levels. Now I just need to remember to check EVERYTHING with a fine-toothed comb before sending  it to my cheerleader.

From beyond the keyboard,

Cheryl.

cherylangst@gmail.com

 

Scene Writing Strategy March 3, 2010

This is totally jumping the gun in terms of following the “Snowflake Method” of writing, but I spent a few hours last night planning out the scene in my head that is begging to be written. I posted an initial draft a couple of weeks ago, but I have since found far too many things wrong with it and am trying to approach it from a more focused and precise perspective.

On his website, Randy Ingermanson has several free articles on writing as well as short courses you can pay for. One of the free articles is about writing the “Perfect Scene.” I’m not going to say this is the one and only way to write, but I will say that the structure he advocates appeals to the hyper-organized, almost scientific portion of my brain–the portion that feels left out when I free write. Regardless of how much, or how little, attention you pay to the theory behind why good scenes work, this article is worth at least a read.

For me, it turned into a gold mine of cranial power because I used the information to create a spreadsheet where both parts of my brain could play together. The logical-analytical side of my brain enjoyed placing snippets of action, emotion, and dialogue in appropriate columns, and the random-eclectic side loved thinking up things for the other side to sort.

Their combined output created a legal sized (at size 8 font) sheet with ten columns (eleven if you count the scene number). Each of these columns corresponds to one of the key elements in Mr. Ingermanson’s article. The first six are related to the overall structure of the scene. Here I explicitly wrote out the: goal, conflict, disaster, reaction, dilemma, and decision for the POV character in that scene. One of the really appealing things about using these elements is that the decision reached at the end of one scene gives the character a goal for the start of the next scene!

The subsequent four columns are related to what I like to think of as ‘mini-events’ within the scene described in the first six columns. These columns focus on the series of actions/events that happen, and the POV character’s reactions to those events, within the scene to get us from the goal, through the disaster, and onto the decision. Like the first six, these four elements work cyclically to keep things flowing through the scene.

The first element, according to Ingermanson, is motivation. This is an external action that the POV character reacts to. The remaining three elements focus on the ways the POV character can react. They are (in a specific, physiological order): feeling, reflex, and rational action/speech. Once the POV character is able think and act rationally, the cycle begins again.

I have included a sample from one of the initial scenes in my novel. Each of the mini-scenes leads into the next. There are seven min-scenes in total that get me from the goal to the decision, but I have only included the first three as part of the example.

Even if you have no desire to be this regimented, there are still many great ideas concerning the craft of writing in the article. I find the structure works for me and allows me to be more creative as I envision what will happen in each scene. Using the spreadsheet ensures that I include all the key components in every scene I write, but I suspect that after four or five dozen scenes I will have internalized these steps and I may not need the spreadsheet any longer.

Now back to step three of the Snowflake Method!

Fron beyond the keyboard,

Cheryl.

 

 
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